In the wake of the 1917 revolution, a vast number of Russian persons entered a diaspora movement with clusters in Berlin, Munich, Shanghai, New York, Prague, Harbin, Kobe, and especially Paris. The White Russians in Paris, centered on the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the Rue Daru, were a group of remarkable theological activity and vitality. Many of them became members of the Student Christian Movement and the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (FSASS), founded in 1928 to promote contact between Christians of Eastern and Western traditions.
Of special interest in this account of early activities of the FSASS are the notices of Anglican monk and liturgical scholar Walter Howard Frere (1863-1938) and Mother Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945), now widely regarded as an Orthodox saint and martyr following her death nine years later in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Author William George Peck (1883-1962) was a prominent Anglo-Catholic social commentator whose works included The Coming Free Catholicism (1919), The Divine Society: Christian Doctrine and Social Redemption (1925), The Divine Revolution (1927), The Social Implications of the Oxford Movement (1933), Christianity and the Modern Chaos (1934) and a host of periodical contributions.
“Russia in the West”
By William G. Peck
From The Living Church (Feb. 1, 1936), pp. 129-130, 133.
I SPENT the first days of this year in France, living with the great Russian Exile. I went because I had been invited to lecture to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, and I believe I actually delivered the lecture; but amid all the vivid memories of astonishing things which remain with me, that particular memory is dim and insignificant. I heard lectures by Prof. Berdyaev, Fr. Bulgakov, and other eminent Russians. I spoke with that amazing woman, Mother Mary. I spoke indeed, with all sorts and conditions of people, with nobles and scholars, with priests and students, with workmen and with down-and-outs. And I lunched with a princess.
On New Year’s Day, I stood, packed with a great crowd of Russian exiles, in their Cathedral in Paris, where the Metropolitan Eulogius was celebrating a solemn Requiem for the dead Photios II, Patriarch of Constantinople. I have in my lifetime seen some extraordinary scenes and events, but as long as I live I shall count my visit to the Russian Cathedral in Paris as one of the most remarkable experiences that have befallen me. I have said that the place was crowded. And what a crowd! What an assemblage of sorrow! Faces of scholars, faces of poets, faces of soldiers, all scored with the harsh brands of suffering, many of them pinched with hunger: Faces of common people, obstinate, pathetic in their simplicity. Mongol faces, Slavonic faces, Scandinavian faces, for the Russians are a mixed people. A crowd of dispossessed, broken, banished men and women, heavily stricken by one of the major upheavals of human history, they stood, as is their custom, through the long, intense, overwhelming ceremonial of the Divine Liturgy; and they seemed all to be looking beyond what was visible, to some invisible certainty that filled their eyes with peace.
The vibrant voices of the choir, singing the unearthly Russian chants, surged up to the saints, all gilded and glorious, beneath the high windows. Through the drifting incense-smoke could be seen priests and monks moving silently beyond the royal doors. The voice of the aged Metropolitan wavered upon the holy words which came stealing down to us. Now and again someone would free his arms from the press, and devoutly cross himself. And after the requiem, two lines of clergy, with the Metropolitan and a bishop standing side by side facing the altar, and all carrying lights, while there arose that sorrow-fraught dirge which at length pulsates into consolation, the mighty Contakion.
The solemn awareness came upon me there, that I was witnessing one of the most moving scenes to be found in the world. I was actually taking part in the worship of the great Russian Emigration. It was a soul-disturbing and tormenting morning, and I seemed to feel all around me the pain and sorrow of this humanity. But the Russians, bearing so many scorching signs of grief, seemed to see only God, and to be at peace.
If any reader is disposed to dismiss these remarks as hollow sentiment, under the impression that the Russians in Paris are but the dregs of a regime now over and forever dead, rightly destroyed for its callous injustice and cruel inhumanity, let me attempt to enlighten him. And let me say that so far is this idea from the truth, that it appears to me that those who have emerged as the leaders of exiled Russia are the kind of people whom God may employ to make a new earth. In the first place, there can be no doubt that these people are inspired and fortified by the Faith of the Holy Orthodox Church. Religion is the foundation of their life. I was present at many of their services, several times at Divine Liturgy, and at various offices; and twice at the service called Molieben; and I was deeply impressed by the reverence and devotion always to be seen. In both intellectuals and plain folk, I found glowing religious conviction. The lay folk would speak about their religion, with a healthy gusto: and if you can imagine a combination of Salvation Army enthusiasm with Catholic belief and reverence, you may have some notion of the atmosphere.
It is very significant that in spite of their material difficulties, the Russian exiles have opened, and now sustain, twenty-five parish churches in and around Paris. I do not wish to suggest that this emigration is composed entirely of persons who are devoutly suffering for their faith; but I do say that its outlook is being shaped and characterized by those who find in religion the supreme meaning and purpose of human life, and interpret their own hardships and sacrifices by the light of supernatural faith.
WE HAVE to reflect, moreover, that the Russians of the exile are rightly proud of those Christian thinkers in their midst who are producing the philosophical work which is now making so considerable a stir in the world of thought. The work of Berdyaev, Bulgakov, and others, is proof that the religion of the exiles is no mere emotion or pietism, but contains the motive and inspiration of noble thought concerning the shaping of man’s destiny. I listened with close attention to the addresses delivered by Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Fedotov, and others, and I was intellectually completely satisfied by their grasp of the world-situation, and by their clear conception of the nature of the Christian opposition which must be offered to the secular experiments.
The point I desire to emphasize is that this is the element which appears to have become central and dominant in the community of the Russian exiles. The notion that they are a number of people embittered by social catastrophe and financial loss is simply untrue, for otherwise the Christian thinkers I have named could not hold among them the influence which they possess. Nor is it to be thought that these eminent men are honored only for the credit which they bring to the Russian community as a whole. Their attitude is shared by Russians who do not belong to their immediate circle.
The fact is that out of their own sorrows, these exiles are learning to draw from the deep wells of faith the living water which may yet refresh mankind. This consideration introduces us directly to their political outlook. They are not a herd of beaten and despairing Tsarists, bemoaning the passing of the old order. Nor are they merely bitter and infuriated toward the Bolshevik government. No doubt that kind of attitude lingers; but it does not characterize the community. Indeed, I heard some of them say things in exculpation or explanation of Bolshevik actions which I myself would hesitate to say. And it was one of their most eminent intellectuals, a man with a mind of wonderful precision and force, who said publicly in my hearing, “Many of us were quite prepared to accept Communism, if it should appear that Communism was the readiest solution of our national problem. But what we could not accept was a government which deliberately set itself to destroy the spiritual foundations of our national culture. We are here in exile because we were compelled to make a decision; and we desire to keep burning that sacred flame, that in God’s good time we may carry it back undimmed to our Fatherland.”
UPON PEOPLE holding such an outlook, the teaching of Prof. Berdyaev and others is having a profound effect; but they are also being influenced, as I shall show in a moment, by the sociological writings of Anglo-Catholics, and one feels in their midst that the principles of the Kingdom of God are germinating to some great issue.
Meanwhile, these Russians are very busy, organizing charities, education, work among students, girls, poor families, the sick, and the unemployed. I was taken to a house where board and lodging is provided for unemployed men; and to the bureau where is carried on a ceaseless endeavor to find work for the workless. I also saw the headquarters of the work among the students. I visited the Theological Academy. And I dined under the roof which Mother Mary has so amazingly provided for lonely Russian girls. It is all heroic, but I think that all the Russians themselves would probably agree that for sheer audacity in faith and purpose, Mother Mary’s venture is supreme.
This lady, after a life which would provide material for several wildly romantic novels, became a Religious; and being moved by the hard and dangerous lot of Russian girls alone in Paris, decided to make a home for them. Having in her possession the sum of four francs, she took a house, the rent of which was twenty thousand francs a year. She had no furniture, no beds, no money; but she was quite sure that she must do this particular work. She was joined by Mother Eudoxia, and by some means or other, these two women got the work started. They have now found it necessary to move to a larger house, where they provide lodgings for a large number of girls, and also feed every day scores of hungry people. They have transformed an old stable into a beautiful chapel, in which, so I understand, most of the artistic adornment is the work of Mother Mary herself.
The Russian exiles hope for the day when they will be able to return to a Russia set free. But at present they labor and pray, sowing a seed which they believe God will bring to some fair and precious fruition. That they are able to do so much is largely due to Dr. Nicholas Zernov, the gifted young man who spends his life pleading the cause of his fellow-countrymen. Immensely active, he travels from his London office throughout England, always seeking to stimulate interest and to awaken sympathy. But he is a dreamer of dreams — such dreams as move and shake the world. And it is he who has done so much to bring together the faithful of the Anglican and the Orthodox communions.
I think his dreams are inspired. I think that the Russians in Paris are doing a service even greater than preserving the faith for the Russia of tomorrow. They have brought something into the West; and they are receiving something from the West; and the situation is pregnant with vast possibilities. Now, there has been no lack of observers, in days gone by, who have pointed out that the Russian culture was complementary to our Westernism. And it is also true that the Russian Church had certain affinities with the English Church, with respect both to the difficulties of the state connection, and to the conciliar ethos of its Catholicism. But whereas the English Church has been soberly practical, turning its thought not seldom to ethical and social fields, the Russian Church has produced a profound mysticism and a wonderful asceticism, arid has developed a worship which seems to proceed before the very gates of Heaven.
THE INTERCOURSE of East and West now proceeding through the proximity of the Russian exile to British shores, is mightily potent. The Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius is an association of Russian and English Churchmen who share a common ideal which is nothing other than that of the reciprocal acceptance of spiritual ethos, inspiration, and help. If there can be at the same time an intensifying of Anglican mystical devotion, and a broadening of Orthodox vision concerning the social and economic implication of Gospel and Sacrament, then something of mighty moment for the future of the whole Church of God will have been born of this welter of sorrow and suffering.
At all events, there is no doubt as to the effect of Russian religion upon those who have been privileged to experience its influence. And, on the other hand, the Russians freely admit their debt to us. One of their foremost theologians said to me, “The impact of your Anglo-Catholic sociological thinking upon our theological students is terrific. It comes to them as a revelation. It is setting them ablaze with zeal for a Christian social order.” The knowledge of this must itself be a reward to those English and American Anglo-Catholics who have labored to set forth the social and economic meaning of the Catholic Faith. And if the day comes when these young men go back to parishes and colleges in Russia, who can say where the limit of this influence may eventually be found? And if we Anglicans are deepened by the Russian spirit of prayer, who can say to what action our English temper may not translate our thought?
Up to the present, in spite of the evidence of very strong desire upon the part of some, there has been no intercommunion between Anglicans and Russians within the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius. This restraint has undoubtedly been wise, for nothing is ultimately gained by such unauthorized action. But there has been much community of worship. It happens that the chapel of the institution where the last conference was held is not fully consecrated, and this made it possible for the Russians to invite us to celebrate Mass there, according to our own rite. They attended our Masses in large numbers, and also the solemn Evensong which I was privileged to sing. And they welcomed us to their services.
But a much more important event occurred. At the invitation of the Metropolitan, the Anglicans held a service in the Cathedral, immediately following the Requiem. It took the form of a short Litany, sung by Bishop Frere. Clad in cope and mitre, and accompanied by deacons, crucifer, acolytes, and thurifer, he performed the historic act of conducting the first Anglican public service ever held in the Russian Church.
The impression made upon the Russians was obviously enormous. As the Russian Metropolitan and the English Bishop afterwards moved through the Cathedral, the people asked for the blessings of both. We were told that they called Bishop Frere “The Man of Prayer.” They pressed reverently but eagerly around him. And outside the Cathedral, a great crowd assembled to see the newspaper photographers take visible evidence of this spiritual pact. In how many far distant places in the coming times will those who were present look back to that day, and thank God!
Richard Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation.